J. W. BONE Tells of Early Life in Dallas County

“My people were among the pioneers,” said J. W. Bone, of Grand Prairie. “I am not informed as to when they settled in Tennessee, but it was in that State my father, J. J. Bone, was born and grew up and became a civil engineer. He migrated to Texas in 1852, and secured work with McKinney & Williams, who were employed by the State to locate wild lands. He worked in Wise, Cooke and Jack Counties. It seems that McKinney & Williams got their pay chiefly in lands, and that is why there are so many McKinney & Williams surveys in North Texas.

J W Bone Headstone

J W Bone Headstone

“Father assisted, in 1852, in making arrangements for the first of the long service of camp meetings held on White Rock Creek in Dallas County. The first meeting was held about a mile north of the grounds finally settled on for these revivals. The Rev. W. H. (Uncle Buck) Hughes, a famous early-day minister, who died only a few years ago, then a young preacher, was an exhorter at the first meeting.

“After that, father moved to Arkansas, where he homesteaded a farm, and where he was living when the Civil War started. He joined a regiment made up there to fight for the Southern Confederacy. He was wounded early in the war and came home. Under the impression that he was exempt from further service, he moved to Texas in 1862.
“I remember we came in an ox wagon, and that we were a long time on the way, camping when night overtook us. But, it is all very dim in my mind. I recall that we touched at a place called Hot Springs, but can visualize no town there, and that we came across a pair of steer horns of enormous length, and that the folks told me that every steer and cow in Texas grew such a spread of horns. That must have been what astonished me most on the journey, seeing that it has stuck in my memory so fast.


Killing Frost in May.
“We settled on the Huffhines farm, near Richardson, Dallas County. Soon after our arrival here, father, who had to some extent recovered from his wound, was called back to the war, but died before the close of the struggle. While the men were at the front during the war, the women and old men at home had a hard time. Shut off from the outside world by the tight blockade, we had to live wholly at home. I remember that the soldiers at Dallas took charge of all the cotton produced in this part of the country and distributed it among the women to be made into cloth. We brought our wool to Dallas and had it carded at Bailey’s carding mill at McKinney avenue and Orange street. Wool had to be carded before the women could spin and weave it. We did without sugar and coffee, and had to go to Grand Saline for our supply of salt.

“Soon after the war, mother married J. W. Byrd, member of a family that had settled in Texas in the ’30s, and some of whom joined the rush for gold in California in 1848. One of the argonauts, John Byrd, returned with money enough to buy the James Byrd headright survey, on the Alpha road, west of Richardson, for which he paid 12¢ an acre. He sowed a large acreage of wheat in the fall of 1850. His crop was all headed out, and giving great promise, with no end of meadow larks nesting in it and soaring and twittering above it, when, on the night of May 6, there came a freeze and frost that killed and turned black, every stalk of it. In disgust, John Byrd sold his land, hitched up his ox wagon and returned to California. He wrote back, that on the way, a Mexican lion killed one of his oxen and left him stranded in camp. I do not know how many days, until some passing teamster happened to have an extra steer. He settled permanently on the Slope and died there.

Wild Goose Honk Higher.
“During the war, the cattle and horses on the range increased and multiplied and naturally grew wilder than ever. There had been nobody to brand them, and it was understood that they belonged to the first man who could clap a hot iron to them. But, as the markets had not yet been opened, numerous as they were, they did not represent any very great amount of wealth. I remember that my stepfather traded Hamp Witt, thirty-two head of cows and steers for an old thimble-skein wagon. Before the war, White Brothers owned a greater number of cattle than anybody else in North Texas. After the war, J. D. Stratton rounded them up for the White estate, and sold them to the highest bidder, who took them out of the country. My first trip west was with a drove of cattle collected in Dallas County and delivered on Dan Wagner’s ranch in Wise County. In those days, every boy was a cow puncher and was supposed to have some little skill in shooting and riding.
“The wild cattle and horses on the range were on the best of terms with deer, turkeys and prairie chickens, which had a prior claim to the country. Deer, quail and turkeys came right up to the cabins of settlers, and it was part of the business of small boys to keep the prairie chickens scared out of the cornfields. Wild geese and ducks came in incredible numbers. In those days, wild geese flew only high enough to clear the houses and the timber — so low, in fact, that you could easily distinguish the geese from the ganders as they flew over you. But, as the country was settled, and men began to shoot at them, all the way from Canada to the Gulf, they gradually pitched their flight higher, until they found an elevation out of the range of shotguns.

Forgotten Village.
“When we settled in the northern part of the county, our postoffice was Breckenridge. It was named in honor of John C. Breckenridge by a bunch of settlers who had come from Kentucky. Breckenridge was long a stage stand. The Houston & Texas Central Railroad, constructed in 1873, passed three miles north of Breckenridge and established Richardson station. The railroad put the stage line out of business, and the postoffice, the hotel, the general mercantile establishment, the blacksmith and the shoemaker moved to Richardson. There is now nothing left to mark the site of the once flourishing village of Breckenridge, which was on the old Floyd farm according to J. W. Bone.

“Dallas was not great shakes when I first saw it. The courthouse was a little one-story frame structure, the roof of which, supported by old-fashioned brackets, projected out beyond the walls. It loomed immense in a setting of log cabins and box houses strung around it, like a fence with many gaps in it.

Bone says,”I came to town along with the rest of the population of the country to see the first railroad train come in, in July, 1872. The present generation who skate over paved roads in automobiles of the latest models can have no conception of the kind of roads we first settlers had to put up with. In rainy weather, it took a day to drive a wagon from Richardson to Dallas, and a day to return. Nor, were we on surer ground when we got into Dallas. Once, my wagon bogged down at Elm and Lamar streets, in front of E. M. Kahn’s store, and I had to apply to the Central wagon yard for a team to pull me out.  “I also came to Dallas to see the first bridge across the river at Commerce street thrown open to traffic. Every settler in the country took in that celebration. The first wagons to cross the bridge were freighted with buffalo hides and meat, a long train of them, from the Far West.

Art Among the Pioneers.
“The few schools the pioneers had did not attempt to carry the pupil beyond reading, writing and arithmetic. Those who wished to venture farther along the flowery path looked to the itinerant professor of penmanship, the singing master and the bandmaster, who were sure to visit every settlement. The outcome was that we had fairly good singing at most of the churches, band playing, that, on the average, was rotten, at picnics and political gatherings, and several persons in every community who could write a note you could read without a knowledge of the circumstances under which it was produced.

“Early in the 1870s, Carl Butler organized a brass band at Locust Grove School, on the old Stratton farm, near Richardson, of which I had the honor of being a member. Some other members were Joe Christie, E. E. Bone, J. Thomas Byrd, Earl Butler, Frank Jennings and John and Nath Dooley. It happened that several of our boys had unusual musical talent. We played for a big political rally at Plano in 1876, and after that, we were in request everywhere.

“Still, we had very crude notions about questions of art. For instance, our bandmaster once told Frank Jennings that he was counting the beats wrong. Frank, who was a natural musician and ready to back the findings of his ear, insisted that he was right. They had a fist fight over the matter, and closed the incident, then and there. What the pioneer could not settle with his fists or his gun, had to go unsettled.

J. W. Bone interview by W. S. Adair appeared in The Dallas Morning News on February 9, 1930. Article transcribed by Jim Wheat for his Dallas County Archives.  Both John W. Bone and parents James J. and Martha Bone are buried at Mount Calvary Cemetery in Dallas.